21st Century Agriculture
Robots on the Farm
Granite State ECO 512
Farmers are enlisting the help of robots to take the place of human laborers on the farm.Technology is a part of our everyday life. Most of us have a smart phone that can tell us anything we want to know at a push of a button. Robots are already in some of our homes, like the Roomba, can vacuum or mop our floors by themselves and are priced within reach. Manufacturing has been utilizing technology to save on production and productivity costs for decades. Humans have been pushing buttons and guiding large computer programmed machinery for quite some time. Manufacturing jobs require only a few employees instead of the many that were needed before technology was available. Now, in the 21st century, technology is taking a big step into farms and onto our kitchen tables.
Farmers are turning to robots to remedy labor shortages and decrease production costs. With rising productivity costs robots could be the answer. A study of lettuce picking Ag-Bots proved that one robot can do the work of 20 farm workers. The Ag-Bot could potentially, “ provide relief from recent labour shortages, lessen the unknowns of immigration reform, even reduce costs, increase quality and yield a more consistent product” (Gosia Wozniacka and Terence Chea, 2013). This new trend would drastically change the labor productivity in the favor of the farmer’s wallet. Ag-Bots are being offered with a 12-24 month payback period (Sander Olsen and Joe Jones, 2011) which is a productivity cost that has piqued the interest of many farmers. Robots, unlike human farm workers, obviously do not require; paychecks, work breaks or insurances. However regular maintenance is required and the Ag-Bots are still being tweaked for their inattentiveness to ripeness and the careful selection process of the produce to be harvested. The Ag-Bots may offer an edge to farmers as the farmers are always on a schedule that revolves around timing- ripening and harvesting. Here production in the short run is constant in farming. The window for harvest is crucial to the per worker production function, the workers must be efficient and work quickly and accurately or the produce will spoil and the farmers receive no money yet they still must pay the farm workers. Whereas the robots require no pay and are able to manage the short run demand of the ripening process. Again caution is given to the robots disadvantages, they are: somewhat clumsy and are yet to differentiate ripe produce from unripe or spoiled produce. Some produce is highly sensitive to bruising which is not ideal for the consumer at the point of purchase.
While this trend could be beneficial for current farmers, new emerging farmers may not have the training or experience to start the business with robots. This could create a barrier to entry. Robots on the farm could be the edge some big competitive farmers have been waiting for. Here is their chance to offer fresh produce quickly to the masses. The labor productivity costs after the initial pay off could mean lower prices and an oligopoly where the farmers with a robotic edge determine the prices of produce. The potential lower prices could put some farmers out of business.
The benefits of Robots on the farm will outweigh the initial disadvantages in profits on paper (Sander Olsen and Joe Jones, 2011). However the ethical debate looms regarding job loss and the effect on the economy. From a business standpoint all the arrows seem to point to an increased profit for the farm owner. It is probably inevitable, the 21st century may see robots in more unlikely places than the farm field.
Gosia Wozniacka and Terence Chea, 2013, Agricultural robots could revolutionize fresh market fruit, veggie production, ease labour woes
The Associated Press The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION Retrieved from: http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/breakingnews/agricultural-robots-could-revolutionize-fresh-market-fruit-veggie-production-ease-labour-woes-215479201.html
Sander Olsen and Joe Jones, 2011, A discussion: Robots could transform agricultural industry Retrieved from: http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/12/robots-could-transform-agriculture.html